November 28, 2011

This Weekend’s News: Russia’s Energy Agenda

Special Programming
Note: The UN climate negotiations begin today in Durban, South Africa. The
Natural Security blog will highlight the main takeaways from this week’s
conference, but for a detailed play-by-play, follow former CNAS intern and
Natural Security all-stark Alex Stark on her blog where she is reporting from
South Africa on the climate talks for the Adopt a Negotiator Project

On Friday, Moscow announced its plan to grant loans and
discounted natural gas prices to Belarus in exchange for selling full control
of its Yamal-Europe pipeline to Russia’s state-owned Gazprom, which already
owned a 50 percent stake in the pipeline. Russia agreed to purchase the other
half of Belarus’ pipeline for $2.5 billion. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Russia
also was cutting the price Minsk has to pay for gas to less than half the
average paid by other European states, from $244 per thousand cubic meters this
year to $164 at the start of 2012. Belarus would then start paying Russia's own
domestic price starting in 2014

The geopolitical implications of the deal are quite apparent.
Media reports of the energy agreement suggest that the move is yet another in a
series of steps taken by Russia to consolidate its influence in Eastern Europe
and control over energy supplies to Western Europe. The deal ties “Belarus,
Russia’s small, authoritarian neighbor, into an even tighter union with Moscow
The New York Times reported. The Wall Street Journal added that “The
agreement, signed in Moscow, marks an important victory for the Kremlin, which
has successfully used its role as an energy supplier to buttress its clout in
the former Soviet Union. Belarus, situated between Russia's eastern border and
Poland, has long been a holdout against Russian influence
…” Moreover, it is
move that strengthens Moscow’s control over gas exports to the West
,” The Washington Post noted.

Russia has become quite adept at using its role as a natural gas supplier in Europe and Asia for geopolitical gains. The New York Times explained on Saturday
that the agreement with Belarus, “like
so many Russia has struck with its neighbors, hinged on energy pricing
policies, long a tool of choice in Moscow’s foreign policy with other former
Soviet states
.” Indeed, these energy deals are a growing trend. In August,
I argued in a post on this blog that Russia
was pursuing an energy deal with North Korea in part to generate revenue that
it could invest in its Far East
to offset China’s growing influence in the

Observers should also note the timing of the energy deal, made
just before winter and several months ahead of Russia’s March 2012 presidential
election. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the deal with Belarus on
Friday, and on Sunday
accepted his party’s nomination – United Russia – for president
.  According to The Washington Post, “Putin,
who has lamented the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, has recently proposed
forming a ‘Eurasian Union’ of former Soviet nations, saying the bloc could
become a major global player competing for influence with the United States,
the European Union and Asia
.” Belarus’ acquiescence to Russia is, as
The Wall Street Journal noted above,
an important benchmark for growing an alliance of former Soviet-bloc states. Stanislav
Shushkevich, Belarus’ first post-Soviet leader, told the Associated Press
that “Putin
is going to the vote with a geopolitical plan of a new empire, and he’s ready
to pay the devil or Lukashenko [Belarus’ current authoritarian leader] to
achieve that

We’ll continue to keep a watchful eye on Russia’s energy
geopolitical agenda.

This Week’s Events

At 10 AM this morning, head to Carnegie for World
Energy Outlook 2011

On Tuesday at 3:30 PM, SAIS will host The Transnational Politics of China's
Resource and Environment Needs

On Wednesday at 3 PM, the Press Club will explore Infrastructure
Needs to Expand Offshore Wind Development

On Thursday at 3 PM, the Environmental Law Institute will
discuss Federal
Climate Change Adaptation: Current Efforts, Political Debates, and Future

On Friday at 12: 30 PM, head over to AAAS for a conversation
about Drowning
and Drought: Extreme Weather Impacts on Our Economy and Society